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I screamed in frustration and flew towards Marisa. I didn’t want to have to deal with the witch, but I couldn’t leave her alone and curled up on that rooftop. Why? I didn’t know, I just couldn’t. It wasn’t proper.
Flying through the battle zone was easier than expected. The majority of the demons were already preoccupied with their peers. Those that did target me were reliant on some sort of physical strike – something I could trust Metabble to guard me from.
There was a method to the madness. I assumed it was possession. With the number of evil spirits crowding the air, the weaker demons lost their bodies to the malicious entities. They fought ferociously, incessantly, compared to their sane peers. The ones constantly on the attack could be discerned from the demons who remained in control.
Those demons were like Yuki and Mai, or the heavily armed demons I saw associated with Yumeko.
I landed on the roof next to Marisa and sneered in disgust. The witch that was so gleefully lobbing magical bullets was quivering on the roof, oblivious to what went on around her. It was pathetic. She was like a little kid.
She was a little kid.
Was she even older than me? It took a few seconds to remember how old I was supposed to be.
Wasn’t I supposed to be a child as well? Why was I fine, while Marisa wasn’t?
She was a kid. Why did I expect her to be more?
I sighed. Already, my hatred for Marisa’s actions was seeping away. The childish witch was obviously out of place.
“Marisa, you should-”
My outstretched hand was swatted away. “Get away from me!” Marisa scrambled away on all fours, pulling herself along the rooftop in a desperate fashion.
The sudden rejection spurred my annoyance back to the forefront. “Hey! What’s your problem?”
“Stay away stay away stay away!”
I stomped after the witch, my upright strides easily catching up to her. “Cut it out and stay still!” I tried to grab Marisa again to keep her from squirming away and hurting herself, but the purple-clad witch rolled to the side and onto her broom.
Before I could work any magic, Marisa shot off. “Aah! L-Lady Mima, save meeee!”
“No, don’t fly up there!” If nothing else, the little blonde girl could fly. “Darn it! Protect her!”
My dolls took off immediately, doing their best to keep up with Marisa. After making my own minor preparations, I took to the air as well.
Flying through the battle was one of the last things I wanted Marisa to do. While I could trust Metabble to protect me, I had to watch out for Marisa. It was difficult for me to be aware of every possible threat.
Compounding the problem, I found myself continuously glancing farther ahead where Yumeko's chase continued. I was surprised that Mima hadn't been caught yet. The maid had knocked away several artifacts, spearing spirits and demon alike, yet Mima appeared to be undamaged. Despite initial impressions, Mima was not as desperate as she seemed.
Sane demons, Yumeko's subordinates, had joined the pursuit, but the additional bodies did nothing to slow Mima. The ghostly witch didn't need to rely on controlling demons she passed by - much like her pupil, she was an explosion of light. However, Mima's barrage was far beyond Marisa's.
Hails of stars were the least of the pursuing demons' worries. I could see the magical air-mines Mima left behind that would explode and launch magical shrapnel. There were swirling multi-colored spheres that whizzed around like boomerangs, whipping past the demons then back again, threatening to rip into their backs. I could feel translucent, dart-like bullets crossing in fields, a near-invisible net for the pursuers to shred themselves on. Trick after magical trick, hidden by the obnoxiously dangerous direct magic assaults.
Yumeko didn't care for any of it. She scraped by the obnoxiously large lasers, smacked aside the barrages of stars, and completely ignored the trickier magics biting into her sides. Even as her dress fell to tatters, she did not. I watched Yumeko drag her exposed leg straight through an acidic, flaming trap. The spell extinguished itself while Yumeko's skin remained near-flawless, a minor rash of red a non-issue.
The other pursuing demons were not built as sturdily. One demon was cut to pieces, his limbs and segmented body losing their momentum and falling to the ground. Another demon took a star to her chest, the bullet digging into her armor and exploding.
I watched one demon manage to get in front of Mima. As the ghost passed by, he reached out and grabbed her, his arms aglow with magic. Whatever strange persuasion Mima used on others failed on him - so she reached into his chest and pulled.
He wailed horrendously, the ear-splitting shriek far outpacing whatever guttural noise came from his vocal chords. It was a nerve-wracking, bowl-loosening scream that far outstripped any normal death cry. I could feel the demon's soul separate from his body, the ghostly witch pulling it out like picking an apple from a tree in one violent motion.
The sound was-
All too familiar.
I crushed any stray thoughts and refocused from the chase back onto Marisa. The little witch was still determinedly flying after her mentor, but she wasn't near fast enough. We hadn't cleared the spirit-filled, demon-filled airspace, after all.
My dolls could only do so much to protect Marisa. My creations wielded their swords and formed a loose net around the witch, intercepting any possessed demons and distracting them with dangerous swings. Their power, unfortunately, lay in their numbers. Spread out, out on their own, left each doll easy pickings for an insane demon. I bit my lip as doll after doll was ripped in two, each one a sacrifice to keep Marisa safe.
She wasn’t even concerned with her surroundings. For every demon she decided to shoot at, four others were warded off by my dolls. Worse, evil spirits flocked towards the vulnerable human girl. I did my best to remove the spirits from a distance, but it took concentration I could barely spare. Marisa was going to get herself killed.
“Look out!” I cried. The witch either couldn’t hear or me or didn’t care. The end result? A demon slammed into her, knocking her from her broom.
Metabble and my few dolls left reacted immediately, shooting after Marisa to try and break her fall. The dolls digging their metallic hands into Marisa’s skin must have been painful., but they managed to mitigate Marisa’s fall. The girl didn’t snap in half when she hit the side of a building and slid to the ground.
I put on a burst of speed and dived. The elephant-esque demon that had slammed into Marisa followed her down and was threatening to crush the girl underfoot. Metabble barely made it in time to slip around Marisa and provide a defensive shell.
It was a poor defense, though. The liquid metal golem didn’t have the strength to resist the crushing pressure for long. I could see the metal deform as the demon’s booted foot sunk deeper into the golem, closer to Marisa.
“Stop!” Magic spiraled around my hand and shot forward, coalescing mid-flight into familiar metal. “Get off of her!”
The flying metal twirled together into a spear-like projectile right before impact. The magic tore into the demon’s side with a wet slurp, knocking the demon off of Marisa.
Then my double-layered spell exploded, chunking the demon’s stomach.
Some sort of explosion was almost always the easiest second layer for spell. Even if the first effect was an explosion, it could always be followed by another, slightly delayed explosion. In Yuki’s opinion, there was no good reason not to throw an explosion into every spell.
I hurried over to where Marisa lay. The witch’s eyes were wide open, staring at the body next to her. When my shadow fell across her face, her eyes leapt to mine.
“N-No, g-go away. Y-Y-Y-You...” murderer, is what she thought to say. Or maybe killer. Monster. Perhaps something worse, if she knew the words.
It was...funny. Ironic, perhaps. Marisa was a child, but a good child. She might have slaughtered demons indiscriminately, but that was only because she didn’t understand. She saw them as nothing more than targets.
I knew they were people. I knew they had lives and aspirations. I considered them family.
That didn’t change when I looked at the corpse on the ground. In fact, nothing changed when I looked at the corpse. No bile rose into my throat. My heart didn’t flutter, my hands didn’t shake. I looked away, but only because there was nothing to see.
In the end, it was something that needed to be done. For one reason or another, I had to save Marisa. That was the only thing that mattered.
It was so easy. Was this how Yumeko, how Yuki, how Mai, saw it? Was that how they could fight so casually? For all my criticisms of the demons, it seemed I wasn’t much different.
“I-I-I d-don’t w-wanna…” I looked back at Marisa and knelt down next to the girl. Her broom was laying several arms lengths away, but even if it were closer she did not look prepared to run.
“Marisa, calm down.”
Marisa covered her face with her arms and curled in tighter. “D-Don’t hurt me! I’m sorry! Sorry sorry so please don’t-”
I frowned and gathered my creations. Metabble flopped up to my side, perfectly fine, and my last two dolls sat down on my shoulders; Luminita and another, a cute blonde-haired doll dressed in a maid uniform, perhaps unconsciously patterned off of Yumeko. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“N-No…no…” Marisa had averted her eyes, content with pretending to hide as much as possible.
What was I supposed to do? When I put my hand on her shoulder, she twitched in fear but didn’t try to run like before. “N-No no No NO N-”
“Shhhh…” I did the only thing I knew how to. I worked off of my memories, what felt natural. When I lightly wrapped my arms around Marisa, I tried to remember what mommy and mother had done for me. “You’re safe.”
Marisa kicked in my arms. “No no no-”
I stroked my hand in circle on Marisa’s back, trying to calm the girl down. “Safe. You’ll be okay, okay? Say it for me. Safe.”
“Shhh. It’s safe.”
Luckily for me, Marisa was confused and hurting. She didn’t care what I had done; she just wanted a warm body to cling to. The witch whimpered quietly and rubbed her face against my chest. I could feel the tears and snot smeared onto my shirt as the wetness soaked through and touched my skin.
Resting in the shadow of a building, it seemed as if we had become invisible. The fighting raged on without us.
Demons continued to flood into the area. They appeared in groups of five or so, each one looking more impressive than the last. The difference between the ‘civilian’ demons and the ‘military’ demons was painfully obvious. The demons dressed in their street clothes were readily identifiable as the shopkeepers, dancers and clothier that enjoyed their day-to-day lives. The other demons, the ones sporting plate mail or bladed arms were the ones that could be found drinking and fighting all day.
Bodies slammed into the earth around us, possessed demons quickly disposed of by their more elite peers. Yuki and Mai were blasting fire and ice. I saw Iris and a pair of others spinning, thousands of sparkling wires bisecting the air around them. Spirits wailed as their existences were snuffed out on the ends of magic weapons. More and more demons floated down to the ground, landing amongst the corpses, ready to rest and let others clean-up.
It was a true slaughter. The number of possessed demons killed in the sky numbered at least as many villagers I had seen perish. I couldn’t confirm because counting pieces of body was too taxing.
Metabble floated above Marisa and me, the liquid metal golem stretching out to provide a lean-to for us to sit under. The little witch was sitting with her knees curled up to her chest, eyes averted from all the death. “Are you feeling better Marisa?”
“…I guess,” she mumbled out.
I thought Marisa had recovered. At the very least, she had stopped crying and didn’t jump every time an arm bounced down in front of us. She was melancholic. I would have been worried if she could maintain her stupid excitement in such a situation. Still, something looked like it was bothering her. “What’s wrong?”
“You cut up my hat.”
I snorted and laughed.
“W-What’s so funny?”
Putting a hand over my mouth did nothing to stifle the laughter. I could feel Marisa slowly coming out of her shell due to her annoyance at me.
Then, a saw a splotch of red against the darkness and leapt to my feet. “Oh, there’s Shinki!”
“Makai’s goddess. Come on, Marisa!” I heard Marisa exclaim in surprise behind me when I flew upward.
The goddess was floating above the city, dressed in her usual red dress. The six large, purple wings at her back were non-standard, but glorious. I could feel the magic radiating from those wings even at a distance. They were reservoirs overflowing with sweet honey, alluring to any who could smell it. A retinue of armored demons accompanied the goddess. I recognized Sara clad in minimal armor, the shoulder pads and gloves I had seen in the past. She was speaking with Shinki.
“-down, Mother. These events were unexpected but-”
“They should not have occurred. That anybody would dare take my children from me-!”
I slowed down as I approached, the handle of Marisa’s broom bumping into my back. The small bursts of anger in the goddess’ voice kept me at a cautious distance away, practically unnoticed below the demons.
“Mother, please. Yumeko shall return soon. Until then, won’t you go back to Pandemonium or-”
“Sara, what is the status of the gate keepers?”
“…If you recover our losses, we’ll be at one-hundred percent.”
“I see. Have I been mistaken, Sara?”
“Of course not Mother! You’ve been absolutely correct-”
“Have I? Truly? You all do not resent me?”
“How can we, Mother? We’re here because we believe in what you’ve commanded of us, no matter what.”
“But what have I told you? I failed in the past, and it seems I’ve failed now.”
Sara outstretched her arms, the gatekeeper unable to keep her emotions in check. “You haven’t! We have been happy! We all want these last hundred years to continue on forever and ever!”
“It’s strange,” the goddess said, her voice quiet, contemplative. “I’ve never felt this way before. Excited to see my enemies’ fall, disappointed they hadn’t understood the threat of the humans, perplexed by an alien method of thought, proud to see my children grow…” It didn’t last. Anger rushed back into her voice as her emotions turned. “But never this. This, this sense of loss when they’ve been taken from me. Taken. They took my children. Mine! What gall they have! I-”
Sara’s shout seemed to subdue the goddess, calming her back down. “She was so strong to bear this loss. Humans are amazing. I was foolish to mock her for it.”
“Hey, why are we floating here? Is that the goddess?” Marisa poked her head over my shoulder.
I wanted to shush the witch, but her voice attracted the attention of the others.
Shinki looked down and saw us, a small smile forming on her face. “Hm? Oh, Alice. How are you?”
“Sis,” the pink haired gatekeeper started to say, “I don’t think this is the best time for-”
“Sara, please, I’m trying to talk to my daughter.” Shinki floated down to where Marisa and I were, allowing us to enjoy her magical glow. My hesitation in drawing the goddess’ attention was almost banished by the sheer pleasantness of those purple wings. It was similar to basking in the sunlight. “Are you hurt, Alice? How do you feel?”
“I’m okay,” I lamely answered.
“I see. Have you made a new friend, Alice? I don’t recognize her.” The goddess’ eyes weren’t unkind. They were neutral, if anything. Not full of the warmth I had come to expect, but not the anger I had seen on her face before.
“S-She’s just Marisa, just a witch.” I expected Marisa to huff at my description, but the girl wasn’t paying attention. She was staring in awe at the goddess’ wings. “Mother, what’s going on?”
“You’re upset too, aren’t you?” Although I was the one talking with Shinki, it didn’t feel like it. When the goddess continued speaking, she was staring past me, her gaze unfocused. She was caught up in her own memories. “Yes, I see. It is my fault. I haven’t changed enough. I should have listened to Yumeko, even back then. It’s what I created her for, isn’t it? I’ve been too lenient for far too long. Why did I ever think my children alone could fight their tainted roots? Yumeko was right. You all are proof, are you not?”
The goddess left me where I was, perplexed by her non-sequiturs. She flew high into the sky and became Makai’s sun.
She pumped magical energy into the air, in enough concentration to be visible to the naked eye. It began to drizzle downwards, a rain of warmth that covered the city.
It was a rain of life. Once the energy had covered everybody and everything, the goddess held out her hand and began her spell. On top of every corpse, a tornado-like swirl developed. They rose up and then down again and again like a sea of pumps. At the same time the energy coalesced and stretched out from each corpse, a sticky slime that pulled destroyed bodies back together. The entire city was glowing, the more heavily mutilated corpses impossible to see underneath the magic.
After a minute, I saw demons begin to rise. Some looked normal, others had patchwork bodies of flesh. But they all rose, all stretched and groaned and looked to the sky.
“Everyone? Please, pay attention.” The goddess’ voice was crystal clear, despite her distance. It was more magic, brought about by an item that could make her voice resound from every wall. “I apologize to you all for the unpleasantness of this day. It’s fair to say that events did not go to plan. While the Hakurei shrine maiden is safely on her way, we have also suffered an attack of the worst kind.
“Today, our family has been split apart. More than those of you who were compelled to fight your peers, several of your siblings had their souls removed and spirited away. More important than the magical items taken, this unexpected intruder has kidnapped our family. Had I known this would occur I...it was my fault I did not know of this in advanced. It was the first of my mistakes, of cloistering us here. Yumeko has…
“Yumeko has not stopped the intruder, but something…Something seems to have stopped her. Our family is being taken from us, further and further away to-” The goddess’ speech was filled with pauses and slow silences. She was sensing the location of the Yumeko and lost souls, I presumed, and was making assumptions.
“I see. I had hoped it was not so, but I feel our family so far away. The intruder has, inexplicably, escaped to the far side of Makai. I...will not make judgments yet, but no one shall stop us from retrieving our family. In the past we suffered because I dared not to act. I will not make the same mistake. We will go to retrieve our family, no matter who opposes us.
“I understand that some of you never wish to relive the violence of our past. I understand your unwillingness to partake in such activities. Those who have lived up to my aspirations in heart and mind can stay behind and tend to our home. You who would do so have exceeded all of my expectations.
“The rest of us shall shoulder the burden. For a short time, we shall indulge in our impure thoughts, our base desires, to retrieve our family. Yumeko shall return shortly to better coordinate our plans. Until then, I ask you all return to your homes to prepare yourself appropriately.”
Once Shinki’s speech wound down, I saw the demons begin to disperse. Some wandered off, others congregated in groups. Many more began to form a rough line that weaved through the streets. I noticed that it was filled with the grievously injured demons, the ones that looked like poorly made dolls of flesh after the goddess’ mass revival.
The goddess began her descent to the ground, but I caught her on the way down. “Mother, what are you talking about? It sounds like you’re going to…to attack the other demons or something.” The ‘far side’ of Makai, I knew, could only refer to the metropolis where Sariel and the others lived.
“Alice, sweetie, it’s my duty to care for my family, at any cost. I thought that I could have my entire family be happy by separating us, but I see that is not the case,” the goddess explained. “My goal is to find whoever would disrupt my family’s happiness. I sincerely hope that my children remain uninvolved.”
“But-” I started.
“You should stay here, Alice. I trust that my children who will choose to remain behind can keep you company.”
“But-” I tried.
“I’m sorry, Alice, but I will be too busy to talk. I have to give everybody a proper body. Do not worry. Everything will be back to normal soon.” The goddess flew downwards to the long queue of demons, leaving me floating alone.
I noticed that the demons that had accompanied the goddess also dispersed. I thought Sara might stay to chat, but the gatekeeper was already flying off away from the city, perhaps back to her peers near the surface.
The only one who wasn’t busy was Marisa, but even she was looking around in rapt attention at the strange sights, the magic and the activity.
I sighed. “But that’s not what I’m worried about.”
“You’ll never survive like that.” The woman draped in red twisted underneath her attacker’s outthrust arm. Bright red light pulsed, catching the attacked in the chest and throwing him to the ground, a bloody hole the size of his head ending his life.
The red woman with white hair sighed and waved a gemstone through the air. The dead attacker’s chest quickly regenerated itself. The man himself sat up a moment later.
“Do you understand what you did wrong?” the woman asked.
The man sitting on the ground rose to his feet. “I think so.”
The woman nodded and turned back to the group array in a semi-circle around her. “Good. Do the rest of you understand? Should our home be targeted, this is one such move you could employ to protect yourself.”
The girl standing in the group took a step forward. “Mother, none of these western demons you’re worried about will make their way out here.”
“Perhaps, but we shall be prepared for anything nonetheless. If I could decide to flee here, than others might someday as well. Besides, this skill can be used on more than just a demon such as myself.”
A shout of pain interrupted the conversation. Another man lay dead on the ground, a hole blown in his chest. The culprit stood over the victim, crowing in success. “You’re right Mother. That is a dangerous ability!”
“Hey!” A different man shouted. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m testing what Mother just showed us.”
“You piece of shit, I’ll tear-”
“Now, now, children,” the woman in red soothed. She waved her gem once more through the air, the recently dead man returned to life.
He used his new life to leap at his killer. “Die!”
“I’ll kill you!”
“You damn coward!”
The group quickly devolved into a lethal brawl, those too slow to react falling to their deaths. The woman looked on with a frown. “Oh my. I had hoped that this group could play nice.”
The girl stood next to the woman, away from the fighting. She ran a hand through her light blue hair. “Mother, you knew that those in this group did not get along. Why would you continue with the lesson?”
“They wanted to learn, so I taught them. What they do with that knowledge is not up to me.”
“But you could stop them. You could order them not to fight and instead force them to work together.”
“Yes, I could,” the woman answered, while continually waving her gem in the air, “but where would that leave them? Bitter and unable to take the initiative. Minor spats such as these are good to relieve stress.”
“I don’t get it. You’re the one who is constantly telling us to get along and not to fight, to resist our demonic heritage.”
“Indeed I am.”
“Why? Why speak in such a way if you still allow this infighting?”
“Because this fighting helps them to grow.”
The girl grunted in frustration at the woman’s enigmatic smile. “I still do not understand.”
“Haha, of course not. You are young yourself.” The woman knelt down to revive a man who fell to her feet before continuing the conversation. “There was a human woman, once. She sought power and badgered me to give it to her. She was surprisingly strong but still no match for the power I had amassed in my travels. However, her motivation was ironclad. Even when I had her crushed underneath my fingers she wouldn’t give up. That spirit was terrifying. Do you know where she found her strength?”
“Yes, but no. Her strength came from love. Compassion, forgiveness, acceptance. All these emotions that are the antithesis to a demon like me.” The woman momentarily sifted through her memories before shaking them away. “When my home was destroyed by the humans, I wondered how my peers ever lost. I had correctly identified their lack of cooperation. The humans that hunted them worked together while my fellows did not. Yet, this human woman showed me what else made the humans stronger than us.”
“That is right. Belief, faith, understanding. All these and more have powered humans to astounding heights.”
The girl smiled in sudden understanding. “Then, you preach peace to us so we may become stronger.”
“Indeed. Or at least, that was my initial goal. Even as a demon, I think I can see the appeal of this.” Before the pair, their family had stopped fighting. The men who had been at each other’s throats were laughing and patting each other on the backs, boasting of their successful attacks and mocking others for their failures. Any murderous intent had fallen away in favor of camaraderie. “Constantly worrying over a betrayal from your closest associate in a power grab is no way to live. If given the chance, I think you all can choose to grow into something more than petty demons.”
“So it is our choice then?”
“Of course. You are all your own people. It is not my place to force you to act one way or another. I can only hope you live up to my ideal.”
The girl let the strange thought tumble around in her head. Choice, freedom, was a peculiar thing. Following was easy, but choosing for herself? It might be difficult, but the girl liked the idea very much.
Girl of Death, Part Three: Ghosts of the Past – End